I’m on hiatus in Amsterdam. Yes, it’s a bit last minute, but I had to get away from Middlebury. I’m out to prove that the city is not the Las Vegas of Europe. In the meantime: My thoughts on travel. My latest collection of recent links I’ve found interesting on the intertubes — they feed my daily “links” posts.
Need to get ahold of me? I will be checking email on occasion, even if you get a “vacation message” from me saying I’m out of the office.
When I get back, I have a blog surprise upcoming!
So Olympic tourists already have plenty of volunteer stations around Beijing. But foreign friends will need a lot more than that to get around. As NBC’s Alan Paul suggests on his blog, Destination Beijing, taxis are a good way to navigate Beijing for tourists. But, “even if you speak a fair amount of Chinese, there’s a decent chance that the driver won’t understand your horrible accent. Or, the Chinese name of the place you’re trying to go is completely different than the English name you know. Or, you manage to properly communicate your destination but neither of you have a clue how to get there.”
True, true. So that’s why hotels, big sponsors, and other foreign companies are out to help that non-Chinese-speaking tourist. I came across the Hilton Hotels Beijing Resource Centers website. A modest attempt with phone numbers and some basic Chinese translations.
But the best so far has been the Starbucks Experience Beijing printed-guide. There is nothing better than a map you can hold in your hand. It has loads of information in Chinese, pinyin (the romanization), and English to help navigate the city. More importantly, it concentrates on the subway system so you can self-navigate the city. Sites are clearly marked with graphics and names. Topping it off, it fits in your pocket. I use it as a subway guide because even the subway itself doesn’t have complete maps that area easy to find and read.
Chances are, though, tourists will break out a Lonely Planet. Just don’t bring (or buy) the entire country guide because it is over 800 pages long. The smaller Beijing guide will suffice.
My photos are up from my two-day adventure in Inner Mongolia. More specifically, I traveled to Baotou and its surroundings. Rather pleasant weather that reminded me of California. Inner Mongolia plays host to the Olympic Torch this week — but as a ethnic minority province, regular people aren’t allowed out on the streets to see the torch in action.
Traveling to the “end” of China (Xinjiang) was, in part, an quest to find the meaning of Chinese diversity. Xinjiang is home to the Uigher population and various other smaller ethnic minorities from Central Asia. And it is the location of a very delicate balance of ethnic tensions. This is somewhat unique in China (with other examples being the still-closed Tibet region and less famously the Miao people) because China as most Olympics-loving people know it is all about the relative homogeneity of the Han ethnic group.
Urumqi, my first brief stop in Xinjiang, is a fascinating city simply because this is where the ethnic balance has flipped. This provincial capitol used to be primarily Uigher and now “boasts” a majority of Han Chinese who have moved out to help “develop” this part of the country. In my Chinese newspaper class, we studied an article that described the incredible investment of the Chinese gov’t to help Han Chinese move out to Xinjiang to teach, hold gov’t posts, administrative jobs, etc. because the West coast needed to experience the same economic growth as the Chinese East coast. Today, the balance is tense. I developed a system for telling where the ethnic “line” was: language of signage. That is, when you see a sign for a restaurant or building or museum or park, etc., the question you should ask is how big is the Uigher script in comparison to the Chinese script. Some signs have just Chinese or just Uigher and that tells you where the owner of the building, restaurant, government, etc. stands. It should be noted that most signs and announcements are bilingual. Up until recently, Xinjiang schools only taught Uigher simply because of the lack of Chinese teachers. Now, schoolchildren all learn Chinese. It’s fun to see schoolkids mixing and using Mandarin as their base language. I don’t see many Chinese kids learning Uigher, that’s for sure.
Kashgar is another world entirely, perhaps a glimpse into pre-Chinese Xinjiang. Although you can get into a taxi and speak Chinese to go to the bus station, most here don’t speak Chinese. The chances of others speaking English outweighs the chances of others speaking Chinese. I can’t say that I felt entirely comfortable here in Kashgar. Maybe it’s because I had to go back to not being able to tell if people were talking about me or not. I was a seemingly-Chinese American in a sea of Uighers. I never got discriminated against once. But there was an unease about looking Chinese. Most Chinese visit Kashgar in tour buses and drive away after looking at a mosque and some donkeys.
Karakul is four hours south of Kashgar and is not a Uigher town. It’s mostly Kyrgyz, and there ain’t many of them in China. The couple who I stayed with quickly mentioned that the people who sold me my ticket to the national park (for 25 kuai, student rate) were Chinese, not Kyrgyz.
In my online absence in the last two weeks, I managed to finish up finals and “graduate” from the School in China in Hangzhou. I moved to Beijing and have started work here. In between, I squeezed in a holiday (vacation) to Xinjiang, China’s Western frontier that borders, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Mongolia. More on that in a following post but included above are the pictures from the trip! Click through to see all the fun.
Picture of the Day: Four hours outside Kashgar (Kashi) at Karakul Lake, I stayed with this Kyrgyz couple in their yurt by the lake. They treated me to home-cooked food and some hometown songs. Amazing to say the least.